Fun Pandemic Biking on Palm Desert’s Closed Desert Willow Golf Course

By Richard Fox

The horrible Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to people around the world, while Mother Earth has been able to breath a sigh of relief as our skies and waters have been the cleanest in years.

Southern Californians have been sheltering in place since late March 2020 to avoid overwhelming hospitals with Covid-19 cases, but have been allowed to exercise out of doors in small groups. Along the coast beaches have been closed because of dangerous overcrowding conditions. Out in the desert however crowds are much lower, as the snowbirds have fled, festivals and all tourist activities cancelled, and hotels and B&B’s shuttered. For a while the golf courses were closed as well, but they were eventually re-opened with safety precautions in place.

While the golf courses were closed, many of them allowed local residents to use them as parks for strolling and biking. I rode the cart paths in the golf community where I live for the first time in my 9 years of living here, and that was pleasant. However another nearby course called Desert Willow is the most beautiful in the desert, with rolling hills of native vegetation, lakes, waterfalls, expansive lush fairways, and being the high point in the Coachella Valley, panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The colorful desert fauna, blue skies, and fresh mountain snows from an unusually heavy April snowstorm combined to make this as beautiful a place as any. Perhaps you were able to cycle or stroll on a closed nearby golf course as well?

Desert Willow is a Palm Desert municipal course that contains two 18-hole courses, the original Mountain View course and the newer spectacular Firecliff course. Golf cart paths meander around both courses, resulting in a 12-mile paved bike trail when the course was closed. Although it became a fairly popular place to walk, there were only a handful of bikes taking advantage of it and the walkers were spread out nicely on the paths or fairways and did not create much of a hindrance to cyclists.

I rode the paths 8 days straight from when I learned about the possibility to when the course sadly (for me) re-opened. It was akin to having a fantasy bike park nearby, and I rode up to 20 miles at a time, taking in the vistas and watching the wildlife including road runners, a coyote (not chasing a road runner thankfully), colorful birds like the Vermillion Flycatcher and Scott’s Oriole, California Quail, giant lizards, and lots of bunnies. It was a “once in a lifetime” experience I shall never forget. Here are some photos from the experience.

View over the Mountain View course from the 1/2-mile entry road bike trail that is always open to us. (Part of enCYCLEpedia rides PD1 and RM1 and 2).
Heavy April snows in the surrounding mountains as seen from the Firecliff course.
Steve at Hole 18 of Firecliff.
We saw numerous road runners. This one was cooing and bragging about his lunch, possibly to a female.
Great White Egrets roosting along the Firecliff Course.
Vermillion Flycatcher.
Very bloomy prickly pear near a Firecliff tee.
Ocotillo mixed in with other trees.
Big lizard!
Steve on a typical Firecliff cart path.
Paths meandering around the Mountain View course.
Firecliff course.
Giant ocotillo from the Mountain View Course cart path. The wild lands surrounding the course are available for a hiking loop of about 1 mile when the course is open.
Beautiful Firecliff Course from the cart path.
Native vegetation along the entry road, always open.

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